Hocus Pocus

Tuesday morning, and I somehow managed to survive yesterday. Sunday night’s sleep wasn’t terrific, and by the late afternoon I was plenty exhausted and tired. I had to persevere, and what’s more, I was interviewed for a podcast last night when I got home from the office. Somehow I managed to get through that, and within half an hour of disconnecting from Skype, I was in bed and asleep within moments. Last night’s sleep was quite lovely–I feel amazingly rested this morning–and so this day might not be as terrible as the previous.

Today is going to be a good day.

I started writing two new short stories yesterday, “The Spirit Tree” and “Moist Money.” “Moist Money” is for an anthology I was asked to write a story for; it finally came to me sometime either Sunday evening or sometime during the day yesterday, and I scribbled down the first two paragraphs in my journal, which I transcribed yesterday, and then added another couple of hundred words. “The Spirit Tree” was inspired by moving books around on Sunday, and one of them–a nonfiction book about snake-handling churches in southern Appalachia–I opened the cover and looked over the first page–which was about “spirit trees”; trees that rural Appalachian folk, superstitious and religious as they are, create to keep bad spirits away. What they do is put glass bottles on tree branches, so the bottles clink together in the wind (“warriors, come out and play”) and the sound the glass tinkling against other glass makes supposedly scares away evil spirits and keeps them from infesting the house. I hadn’t thought about spirit trees since I was a child, and I thought, not only is that a great title, I can actually think of a rural noir story to write that matches it. Yesterday I got down about five to six hundred words of the opening; this is a story, I think, I might try to sell to Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock when finished. I was too tired to do much more than write the openings of both stories last night; but I am hoping to get more written on them this week. I also need to get those three chapters of Bury Me in Shadows written, so it can sit and percolate for the next couple of months until I can get back to it.

It’s also weird to think Royal Street Reveillon will be out into the world next month. It seemed like it took me forever to write that book, and I guess it kind of did? But it’s nice; I’m glad to be putting another Scotty out there into the world, and I’m also not sure when I’m going to write the next one. I already know what it’s going to be–Hollywood South Hustle–but I’m just not sure when I’m going to get to it. I want to, as I have said in previous blogs, get all these books about teenagers I’m in some stage of writing cleared off my plate and out into the world before I start writing anything else–a cleansed palate, as it were–and keep writing my short stories and essays along with writing those. I’d love to get my second short story collection out into the world by 2021–that would be the one I’m calling Once a Tiger and Other Stories–and I also want to get “Never Kiss a Stranger,” a novella, finished sometime before the end of the year, as well as “Fireflies,” my horror novella, as well.

So much to do, right? And I really need to proof Jackson Square Jazz so the ebook can finally go up for sale again. Maybe I can make that a goal of my long weekend for my birthday? Stranger things have happened. I really need to get all these things that are hanging over my head finished and out of the way, so I can focus more easily on writing Chlorine next year.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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Behind Closed Doors

I only managed about seventeen hundred words on the WIP last night. (Hangs head in shame.) But in fairness to me, it’s a difficult transitional chapter which sets up some important stuff in the final five chapters, so I am trying to get it just right–which is, by its very nature, the definition of insanity, as I am obviously going to have to revise the fuck out of it eventually.

Heavy sigh.

And so it goes.

Yesterday, despite sleeping relatively well the previous night, was relatively unpleasant.  I had a toothache–which has sort of subsided this morning, but we’ll see as the day progresses–and there’s nothing worse than tooth pain. I’ve been putting off seeing the dentist for quite some time now; I suppose I need to go ahead and make a plan for getting in to see my dentist and then start figuring out how to pay for all the work I need to have done in my mouth. It was so  bad yesterday chewing was difficult–it’s a molar–but this morning it feels, while still not terrific, much better than it did yesterday. I suppose we’ll see when it’s time to chew something, I suppose. But ugh, mouth pain is the worst.

I suppose I could also blame the tooth for how difficult it was to pull those words out of my brain last night and get them down on the page, but that seems kind of cheating. I also did something Saturday–I’m not sure what–but my back has been sore and making me uncomfortable since Sunday morning when I got up. I generally attribute these aches and pains that come out of nowhere with just getting older, but sometimes I get paranoid and worry that it might be something important I’m ignoring and blowing off. I’ve never been much of a hypochondriac–I generally dismiss things and hope they’ll go away so I don’t have to do anything about them–but sometimes it gets too bad and I don’t have a choice (remembering the day of the three abscessed teeth) but this toothache seems to be just that–a toothache–and will probably go away. My gums aren’t swollen, neither is my cheek, and that makes me tend to think that an abscess isn’t going to be the problem this time around.

Fascinating, right?

We continue to watch The Boys on Prime, and it’s getting darker with each episode. Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman sort of touched on this notion that super-powered beings cannot really be trusted, and the comic book ideal of “great power means great responsibility” is just precisely that: an ideal. Even the super-villains of the comics, their antagonists, are rarely more powerful than the heroes (Magneto in X-Men being one of the primary exceptions to this rule), because obviously the heroes always have to win out in the end (one of the reasons I always loved Detective Comics was because Batman usually had to use his brain to outwit the criminals; obviously, one of the reasons I was always a Batman fan was because he was, before The Dark Knight Returns, known as The World’s Greatest Detective…I really was destined to become a mystery writer), otherwise why else would people read comic books about super-heroes? Sure, they suffer and go through angst as part of their character-building arcs, but the point of being a hero is to surmount challenges and difficulties.

And actually, my tooth is much better today, so there will be no blaming of the tooth for not being productive today. I am still trying to get a handle on this enormous, time-sensitive project I’ve been handed; I got some work on it done yesterday, but after awhile–particularly when I’m in tooth pain–I can only deal with Excel spreadsheets for so long, you know?

But I am feeling so much better today–even my back isn’t achy, more just reminding me periodically that I did something it isn’t happy about–that I feel certain I can continue marking things off my to-do list without a problem.

Go, Gregalicious, go!

I also hope to read some more of Steph Cha’s terrific Your House Will Pay. I certainly had to put it down at a place where I really didn’t want to put it down, so there’s that.

I also think today needs to have an appreciation moment.

So, today I am appreciating Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. When I was a kid, I became a huge fan of Ellery Queen from watching the television program, with Jim Hutton. I also remember being disappointed that the character in the books–Ellery Queen novels in the third person point of view by Ellery Queen–wasn’t as much like the sort of absent-minded incredibly intelligent goofball from the show. Anyway, I remember reading my first issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine when I was a teenager, and have read it, off and on, ever since. It was always on my bucket list to have a story published in their pages, and that finally happened in 2006, when they  did a Katrina-anniversary New Orleans focused issue, and it included my story “Acts of Contrition.” That was a really proud moment for me, as was my second appearance some five or so years later with “The Email Always Pings Twice.” I love being able to say I’ve had two stories published there, and hope to someday say three rather than two. Every experience I’ve had with EQMM and its staff has been absolutely lovely.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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Diamond Girl

So, how you doin’, Constant Reader?

Well, running the errands yesterday turned into a major challenge. It started raining before I left the house, but despite the heavy rain–those enormous big raindrops we get here in New Orleans, that feel like they’re leaving a bruise–I decided to go for it. I grabbed an umbrella and dashed to the car, getting soaked in the process despite the umbrella (the umbrella that can handle the rain in New Orleans has yet to be invented), and the rain came down even heavier as I headed uptown. At Jefferson Avenue, there was still blue sky and sunshine and no clouds, but while I was inside the postal service the storm arrived (I got some things I needed in the mail, some bills, and an ARC of Alex Marwood’s The Poison Garden, thanks, Erin!) and dashed back out to the car and headed to the grocery store. It was pouring by this point, with thunder and lightning and everyone driving three miles an hour–but in fairness, the street gutters were filling with water. I sat in the car and waited a good five minutes before making a break for the store–but even walking quickly I still got very wet.

But at least while I was doing the shopping the rain let up a bit, and it was only sprinkling as I went out to the parking lot.

Getting home was a challenge as some streets had filled up with water; Felicity Street had a good six inches at least on it, and the gutters on Prytania were also full of water, but it wasn’t that deep. Everyone was driving, of course, like their car was about to drop into a sinkhole and disappear from sight–of course, driving slow rather than faster won’t change that at all, so I don’t really get it. Yes, you should drive slower through standing water–but you don’t have to literally crawl through it, either–and yes, local New Orleanians reading this, I know there are no-wake ordinances in the city (yes, that’s how often our streets flood with water; the city has passed ordinances dictating how fast you can drive through standing water), but when most of the street is not underwater, there’s no wake sending water into people’s homes, businesses or cars parked alongside the street.

It’s interesting that my neighborhood sort-of flooded again–the water on my street had been over the sidewalk but had drained by the time I got home; I could see the dirt and debris on the sidewalk–when it didn’t used to; and there are people alarmed in the city because we are seeing water rising and standing where it never used to before. It occurred to me yesterday that this could entirely be because of all the construction that’s taken place in the city over the last few years. Empty green lots are now paved over for buildings or parking garages; city blocks that used to simply be a ground level parking lot are now five story apartment/condo buildings. So the water used to spread out over the paved lots and also used to soak into the green lots; now that water is draining off those buildings with nowhere to go so it settles in the street. The two vacant lot on our street are about to be paved over and turned into a three story condo complex–which isn’t going to help our street in upcoming rains.

I seriously doubt that anyone–especially on the city permit level–ever took water drainage into consideration when handing out permits. Driving down O’Keefe Street now in the CBD is like driving down a canyon through higher-rising buildings, whereas before those lots were parking lots. I wonder if I am onto something here…

I spent the day yesterday, after getting home, working on getting my email down to a respective amount, and I also started reading Jay B. Law’s The Unfinished, for which I have agreed to write an introduction for the new edition being released by ReQueered Tales. Laws only wrote two books before he died of AIDS in the early 1990’s, this one and Steam, which is one of my favorite horror novels of all time. The Unfinished was released after his death, and isn’t as well-known or well-remembered as Steam; being a posthumous novel undoubtedly had something to do with that. I thought I had read it years ago, but as I am reading it now, it’s all new to me…and while I am well aware that my memory is as reliable now as the water drainage system in New Orleans, this entire story and the character seem completely new to me; usually when I reread a book I’ve completely forgotten the story eventually comes back to me as I work my way through it–that isn’t happening here, and while it saddens me that I’ve not read The Unfinished before, I am actually kind of glad; it means I am experiencing an immensely talented writer’s final work for the first time…and the essay I want to write to introduce the book is already beginning to swirl around inside my head.

Today I have a million things to do–so much writing and editing to do, as well as reading–that it’s not even remotely amusing–although sometimes I do think all I can do, rather than weep when looking at the list, is laugh.

Along the lines of my recent decision to celebrate and own my accomplishments, as an addendum to today’s blog I am going to talk about having a story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, the Planned Parenthood fundraising anthology from Down and Out Books, edited by Holly West. I’ve loved the Go-Go’s from the first time I heard “Our Lips Are Sealed” on the radio, and have seen them in concert twice. Since I recently discovered the magic of Spotify, I find myself listening to their original three albums a lot lately, and the music doesn’t seem dated at all to me, which I think is the key to their success. One of the things I found interesting was I never listened to their music, or sang along to it, and thought about how dark their lyrics actually are, until Holly agreed to let me write something for this anthology (I basically invited myself to contribute to it, which is something I never do; which is another problem with myself and my career–I don’t assert myself or push myself forward into anthologies. The worst thing that can happen is the editor will say, ‘sorry, got enough people already, but thanks!’ My entire career I’ve worked to make rejection less painful and more of an oh well thing; I’m still working on making that sort of rejection/disappointment something that just rolls off my back rather than derails me for a time.

Sometimes you have to be assertive, and while that sort of thing kind of goes against my nature, you have to do it.

Anyway, Holly gave me a choice of three songs to use for inspiration, and as I looked up the lyrics on-line, I was struck by how dark the songs were. Without Belinda Carlisle’s cheerful, almost chipmunk-ish vocals and the high-energy beat of the music behind them, I couldn’t believe how noir the lyrics actually were. I eventually chose “This Town”–because it was the darkest of the three–and started writing it. I honestly don’t know how the idea came to me, or where I came up with it, but it turned out to be one of my favorite stories of my own; and other people seemed to like it a lot, too. “This Town” will probably wind up anchoring my next short story collection–should I do another one, which I am hopeful I will be able to do–and again, as I said, the feedback on the story has been so overwhelmingly kind and generous that as per usual, I didn’t really know how to respond to the compliments.

The story itself is the perfect illustration of what I think, in my mind, a crime story should be; which is why my work isn’t accepted into places like Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines; I don’t necessarily solve a crime in my stories, even though they are about crimes. (Of course, it could also be that the stories I send them aren’t in their best shape, either.) Getting a story into Alfred Hitchcock is a bucket list item of mine, and I’d also love to get another story into Ellery Queen, but I digress.

Okay, I should get back into the spice mines if I want to get anything done today.

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You’re So Vain

You probably think this blog post is about you.

Vanity, thy name is Gregalicious.

Vanity is one of the seven deadly sins (which are not mentioned in the Bible, I might add; they are a part of Christian dogma and tradition, but never specifically named as such in their holy book) and I was raised to be humble, not vain; pride is also one of the deadly sins, and pride goes hand in hand with vanity.  The satisfaction of achieving or accomplishing something was theoretically enough of a reward, in and of itself, without getting praised for it; it’s wrong to bask in the glow of people’s compliments. As I have mentioned before, this has made promoting myself as a writer difficult; every time I make a post crowing about succeeding at something or winning something or being nominated for an award I can hear my mother’s voice, in her soft Alabama drawl, saying, “highs are always followed by lows, remember that, life likes to take the air out of people for having too much pride.”

It’s something I still struggle with. I was also told most of my life that self-absorption is also problematic, but a certain degree of self-absorption is necessary if you’re going to succeed at writing. (I think that like with all things, it’s a matter of degrees; some self-absorption is necessary, but anything taken to extremes is never a good thing for anyone.) Most writers have full time jobs and families, so the time they spend actually working on their writing is precious and should be sacrosanct; we give up our free time to write, and many of us get a very small return for that time. I’ve been accused of being self-absorbed by people I know most of my life, and it always used to sting a little bit, because the implication was that being self-absorbed is a bad thing. But as long as it isn’t taken to extremes it’s necessary, and when I began to notice that my “self-absorption” accusations usually came about because I was choosing to be jealous of my spare time and not do something someone else wanted me to do–I stopped caring so much about it and started embracing self-absorption.

“Sorry, I can’t do that, that’s my writing time.”

Having that statement met with anger and accusations of being selfish and self-absorbed, I realized, said more about the person saying it than me, to be honest. I am a writer, and am always in the middle of writing something, or have a manuscript or many short stories in some form of the process. I should, quite literally, always be writing and working, and I also finally realized that if a friend cannot respect my writing time, and gets angry and belligerent and nasty and insulting about me not wanting to give that time up….that person isn’t actually a friend, after all, and is everything they are accusing me of–but because of many experiences and lessons learned in my life (that I am still struggling to unlearn) my automatic default is to feel guilty and blame myself for being a bad person.

I’m learning. I am still learning, and unlearning, my conditioning. I’ll probably go to my grave still wrestling with these kinds of things, but I am getting better about this sort of thing.

My friend Laura suggested the other day that another good thing people should do is write a press release about themselves; channel their inner publicist and write a press release highlighting your achievements and accomplishments in glowing terms, without embarrassment and without shame. I’ve been thinking about that for a few days now, and looking back over my life, there have been quite a few highlights in my writing/publishing career…and I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to publish over thirty novels and twenty anthologies and an absurd amount of short stories and essays and book reviews and author interviews and fitness columns/articles over the years. I wrote a writing column for the Erotica Writers Association for several years. I am currently writing a column called “The Conversation Continues” for the Sisters in Crime Quarterly, and have been for several years. I’ve been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award fourteen or so times, winning twice. I’ve been nominated for the Anthony Award twice, won it the first time, and will find out in Dallas how I did the second time. I have been nominated for a Macavity Award and a Shirley Jackson Award. I won two Moonbeam Children’s Book Award medals, one gold and one silver. I won a Lesbian Fiction Readers Choice Award for Anthology/Short Story Collection for Women of the Mean Streets: Lesbian Noir, which I co-edited with J. M. Redmann. My first horror anthology, Shadows of the Night, won a queer horror award, and Midnight Thirsts won a Gaylactic Spectrum Award. I won several Best of the Year awards from the Insightout Book Club, which used to be a wonderful queer version of the Book of the Month Club. I’ve published two short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and have been published in both Mystery Weekly and Mystery Tribune. I had a short story in New Orleans Noir. I’ve written for the Mystery Writers of America newsletter and for the Edgar Annual (twice), and even edited and put together the Edgar Annual once.

Wow, right? I do think it’s important, as Laura says, to take stock of everything you’ve achieved periodically, so you can get a better handle not only on your career but as to how other people see you.

You may not like me, you may not like my work, but you cannot deny me my accomplishments. And when I put them down, when I write it all down and look at it and reread it over, it is kind of staggering in some ways…particularly when you consider I’ve worked full-time outside the home since 2008, and if you take into consideration how much editing I’ve done since around 2002/2003…yeah. I’ve done quite a bit.

And seriously, no wonder I am tired all the time.

Today Paul is heading into the office and then is spending the evening with friends; leaving me here all alone by myself in the Lost Apartment for the majority of the day. I have a lot of work to get done here this weekend–not just cleaning and so forth, the usual, but I also have a lot of emails to get through, some writing to do, and some revising/editing to do. I need to get the mail and I’d also like to get some groceries at some point today; I’m not precisely sure how that’s going to play out, frankly, but it’ll get taken care of. I started rereading Bury Me in Shadows while sort-of watching the fifth episode of The Last Czars (“Revolution”), and then after Paul got home we started watching the CNN series The 2000’s on Netflix–the episodes on technology and the first one on television in the twenty-first century, which is, as always, fascinating. (We’ve really enjoyed all of CNN’s decade-documentary series, from The 1960’s on.)

Rereading Bury Me in Shadows also was a bit of a struggle, you see, because while I have talked endlessly about the troubles I am having writing this book, some of them are due to stubbornness and some of them are due to technical challenges for my writing. The stubbornness comes from the refusal to let go of the opening sentence, which I love (The summer before my senior year my mother ruined my life.), but the reread showed me it really doesn’t work and doesn’t fit with the story or the style of writing I am using. The style of writing–remote first person present tense–is a departure from the way I usually write a book and something new and difficult I am trying, and after decades of  tight first or third person past tense, I have to actually pay attention because if I am not I will, by default, slip into the past tense. The first chapter is going to need to be completely redone, almost completely reworded, from start to finish. I’d like to finish reading it and making notes this weekend; I’d also like to finish writing Chapter 18, and also would like to revise some other short stories and other chapters of books in some sort of progress–I want to reread that first Chanse chapter I wrote, for example, and look at the first chapter of Chlorine again–and I should probably start working on some promised short stories I have to write.

It’s daunting, but I need to make a list, keep it handy, and just mark things off as I go.

It’s always worked in the past, so I should stop resisting, do it, and be done with it all.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, however you choose to spend it.

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No More Tears (Enough is Enough)

Good morning, and welcome to another cold January morning here in the Lost Apartment. I have some errands to run later today–later this morning, to be exact–and then I am spending the rest of the day holed up inside reading, cleaning, and probably watching figure skating on the television. We did watch the ladies’s final last night, which was quite fun, and am looking forward to seeing the competitions today. The European championships have also been going on this past week, so it’s all saved on Hulu for us to watch at our leisure. The Australian Open is also still happening–so much sport!–and so there’s that as well. I do want to finish reading my book today, and I want to read a short story, and start reading my next book as well.

And tomorrow I am cleaning out my email inbox if it kills me, and it just might.

I slept really well again last night–that’s three consecutive nights of good sleep, which is amazingly lovely.

Yesterday was also kind of a crazy day in the world, although it’s pretty safe to say that everyday has been kind of a crazy day for a while now. As I said to Paul the other night, “it’s like world politics has turned into Game of Thrones, only much scarier because it’s real.” And I know, world politics has always been very Game of Thrones, it’s just never been so obvious and apparent.

It’s hard to believe it’s almost February already, but there you have it and there it is. Carnival hovers on the horizon, and the Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners is just behind it. I am moderating a panel this year with Alafair Burke, Samantha Downing (My Lovely Wife) and Kristien Hemmerechts (The Woman Who Fed The Dogs) so I have some homework for that as well.

So much good reading to look forward to! Art Taylor also very graciously, along with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, made a pdf of his Edgar nominated short story “English 398: Fiction Workshop” available on-line, which I downloaded and look forward to reading. Art’s a terrific writer and a master of the short story (when I was nominated for the Macavity for “Survivor’s Guilt”, Art was the winner, and his story was amazing), and it’s always terrific to read one of his stories. (Hint hint: Art, how about a short story collection? Hint hint.)

I’m also going to dissect some short stories I am in the process of editing–unless I get lazy again. I rarely do this when I am editing/revising short stories, which makes my short stories actually kind of hit or miss; if the story works, it’s because I simply got lucky with it. But I think if I actually break the story down into what it’s about, and who the characters are and why they are the people they are, more of my stories would probably work. It’s a theory, at any rate, and there’s nothing I love to do more than break down my work and put it back together again (I’m being sarcastic, if you couldn’t tell).

And on that note, I am heading out into the frigid cold to get my errands out of the way before coming home to mine spice.

Have a lovely day, everyone!

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Holding Back the Years

Yesterday was rather dreary, weather-wise, and I feel fairly confident we are still under a flash-flood warning; but this morning all I see is blue sky and sunshine. Things still look a little damp out there, but over all, much better than one could have hoped. And in checking the project path for Alberto, the cone of uncertainty has narrowed to New Orleans in the west to Panama City in the east; much, much smaller cone; but we are on the outside of the western edge. As storms also tend to turn to the east–even Katrina did before landfall–I’ve breathed a slight sigh of relief this morning.

It is, I suspect, going to be a long hurricane season–particularly since it doesn’t officially start until June 1.

I slept deeply and well last night, and my back–which was aching–no longer hurts, which is a good thing. I wish I could figure out what the hell I am doing to it to make it hurt in the first place, so I can be more careful, but I am more than happy to take the pain being gone as a win this morning. Huzzah!

Yesterday I was scribbling away in my journal as I continued to read Philip Roth’s When She Was Good. The writing is very good, and the characterizations are also quite good; all that remains is the plot/story, and I am intrigued enough with it to continue reading it. Maybe I should dial it back for a while on the crime fiction and read outside my genre for a little while; not just for a break but to come up with better ideas for my own writing, which can never hurt.

I wrote all kinds of notes in my journal yesterday; notes for the WIP, notes for the short stories “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” and “The Brady Kid” (I’ve not even thought about the latter for months now), so I am feeling all kinds of productive here in the Lost Apartment this morning. I am going to actually write today for a while; I also intend to do some reading–not just the Roth, but I am going to read everything I’ve written on the Scotty thus far and make notes. I also don’t know my characters in the Scotty book as much as I should, and I need to get the plot figured out so I can get the goddamned draft done. I also have a few other things I need to get done as well.

And there’s always cleaning, of course. I am currently working on washing the bed linens, and the living room of course needs to be vacuumed. I also need to clean out my car a bit; and Armor-all the inside of my car now that summer is looming. I also need to put the recycling out. But I have to say, this well-rested thing is actually working out quite beautifully. I could easily get very used to it, I must say. I must also say that I’m greatly enjoying this creative phase I am currently experiencing. I am thinking about character, and why I write the things I write, and how to broaden my reading audience. I’ve been thinking about moving forward with the agent search, how best to approach an agent, how to put my best foot forward, not only with industry professionals but also with the readers of my genre.

I’ve also come to realize that, over the last few days, as I’ve put my finger precisely on why I wasn’t getting anywhere with “A Holler Full of Kudzu” is because I was trying to not be subversive; the write from the gay male point of view without rubbing people’s faces in the sexuality. But WHY? Why would I do that? The point of the story, the theme, if you will, has everything to do with the point of view character’s sexuality; of beginning to understand what your sexuality is and that is partly why you feel different from everyone else, and also, learning how people feel about people who are like you, and how dangerous those feelings are, can push you deeper into the closet. I think the theme may be larger than the story itself, to be completely honest with you; which is why I am tending to think this story may actually be a novel a-borning in my mind rather than the lengthy short story I was thinking it would be. As I plug in some of the story pieces today that I brainstormed in my journal last night, I will come to a better understanding of the story and how long it is going to be.

Likewise, “Never Kiss a Stranger” is becoming much longer than I originally thought it would turn out to be; it’s going to come in far longer than the six or seven thousand words I originally had planned. That will make it harder to place, of course–not that it’s not already hard to place stories with gay characters and themes; it’s almost impossible–but I’ve also decided that I simply have to stop writing things that are specifically intended for markets. I have to write the story the best I can and then try to find a market for it. And I can always, always, always, simply do another collection of stories.

I also like that “The Brady Kid” is starting to shape in my mind; mainly, who the point-o-view character is. Part of the issue with some of my stories is that maybe I don’t define the characters enough; it’s hard to write a good story when you don’t know who your characters are.

I’m also finding that experimenting with voice and style and tone and place is much easier to do in a short story rather than in a novel. I think writing these stories is making me a much better writer, to be honest, which is ultimately going to be more helpful to me in the long run than I’d possibly thought. During my brainstorming last night I also figured out some of the problems I am having with the Scotty novel; not solutions, per se, but actually diagnosing the problems, which is key to figuring out how to solve those problems.

Which is fun, actually, and I have to say, it’s so awesome that writing is fun again.

I also read some short stories. Here’s one: “Crazy Margaret” by Jack Fredrickson, from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September/October 2017 issue.

The gravestone had room for only the first name, but it was the largest he could carry up the hill. He set in on ground covered now, as then, with curled brown leaves.

He’d meant to slip into town quietly, place the stone, and slip out again. There was no one from his old life he wanted to see. But a voice had called his name when he was gassing up the rental, a guy he’d known in high school. They’d chatted for a moment before Dave, acting casual, asked about her.

The old classmate had scratched his head, surprised. Crazy Margaret, he said; that’s what the kids sneaking out there called her after she dropped out of school. But new kids came along, kids who didn’t know her, and soon enough, nobody gave her any mind at all. “Hell, it’s been at least twenty years,” he said. “She could be dead.”

I enjoyed this story; which is told from the perspective of someone coming home to their small town and remembering something that happened years earlier, something criminal; this is something I often do in my own stories–in fact, “This Thing of Darkness” is sort of one of these stories. The Margaret of the title is a beautiful young woman who sunbathes out at the lake where she lives in skimpy bikinis; luring young boys out there to watch her and possibly, just possibly, killing some of them. It’s sort of a retelling of the siren myth, from the Greeks: the beautiful woman who lures men to their deaths. Although…really, should the boys be out there spying on her in the first place? Isn’t that a form of harassment?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story; it’s very well done and how Margaret gets her own punishment for what she’s doing is very Tales from the Crypt or House of Mystery; crime is always punished in a macabre, ironic way and so it is for the Crazy Margaret of the title.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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How Will I Know

Well, somehow I managed to make it to Friday. This wasn’t a great week; sleep issues, mostly, but last night I finally slept well despite some truly strange dreams…which are fading away from me now. That’s fine, but they were seriously weird; I did wake up a few times during the night thinking okay, that was just weird. But as usual, now that I am awake and drinking my coffee, I don’t really remember any of them. I would have loved to stay in bed longer, but I have a meeting this morning at the office. It’s my short day, which is also incredibly lovely, and I am hoping to  have a nice relaxing weekend of catching up on things, including rest.

I managed to get “Fireflies” revised and ready for a read-aloud this weekend; that’s several stories I get to read aloud this weekend, including “Don’t Look Down” and “This Town”. Three stories to read aloud, even if “This Town” is just to check for extraneous words and trim it down a bit, if possible. I also started writing “This Thing of Darkness” yesterday, and it’s coming along swimmingly. I got about 1400 words or so done. I need to get back to the Scotty book this weekend as well; I am going to reread the entire thing before I get back to it, though. I also have to go to the post office as well as do that grocery store thing.

And of course, the apartment is a disaster area.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But I’m pretty jazzed about getting through this day and getting home to start the cleaning, and get to reading Lori Roy’s The Disappearing. She really is quite an extraordinary writer. If you aren’t reading her, you need to be. Seriously.

I am also going to discuss a short story today, which means we are back to the Short Story Project, and might even be able to get another one knocked out tomorrow.

Today’s is “e-Golem” by S. J. Rozan, from the September/October 2017 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine:

Bookstore dust was not the same as other dust. Loew had noticed this before, sweeping out the cluttered aisles of his used-book shop. It settled more gently, but at the same time seemed more weighty, each mote carrying both wisdom and whimsy, erudition and imagination. He shook his head. Loew, he told himself, this is why you’re doomed. WHy you’re barely eking out a living, selling forgotten things no one wants in a store you soon won’t be able to afford.

For most of his life, first working after school in his father’s shop in what was then the Jewish, later the Chinese, and lately the gentry’s Lower East Side, and on through the almost imperceptible transition when the shop became his, Loew had found pleasant this sense of gentle churning. Books no longer needed in one place lodged in the shop until they found a home in another, and customers came periodically to discover what treasures had rolled to the surface. This churning and discovering still went on, he understood, but less tenderly and on the Internet that soul-destroying virtual world where all was about price and little about love. People who bought rare books online did so speculatively, hoping their value would increase. How different from Loew’s customers, who held a book, fingered its pages, inspected its cover, to decide whether this book, this copy, was meant to be theirs. A customer who turned a book down was never a disappointment to Loew. It meant the two didn’t belong together. The customer would find his book, and the book would find its owner. Until it did it had a home here on Loew’s shelves.

S. J. Rozan is one of my favorite crime writers, bar none. This story, which is both clever and slightly sly at the same time, is an example of her work at its best. Loew discovers an old book of mysticism in his store, and half-heartedly tries to create a golem to go after his biggest enemy–Amazon. What happens next is why Rozan is one of the greats of our time in crime fiction; clever twists and turns that one never sees coming. But what really struck me the most about this story is how good she is at voice. Never once does she hit a false note in this story; every word is perfect and fits with the character’s voice. Were I ever to teach a class in crime writing, I’d use this story as an example of how to do voice perfectly.

And now back to the spice mines.

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